Featherstone: Schools would be sunk without parent volunteers
'You didn't come on any field trips this year," my first-grader observed at dinner the other night, sending pangs of guilt and sadness through my heart.
In my defense, I did chaperone one field trip back in the fall -- too long ago for a 7-year-old to remember now that we've come to the end of the school year. But last year I was one of those public school mothers who volunteered constantly -- in the classroom, for school trips, anything the teacher needed. This year, work made too many demands on my time.
With our schools so strapped for money and labor, they depend increasingly on parents to pitch in. At my son's school, parents are often told that our kids would never be able to experience so many excursions without our help.
With more adults in the classroom, each kid gets more attention, and teachers have more time to spend with those who are struggling. Teachers, some of whom may have as many as 32 students, can't do these things alone. Throughout the city, parent volunteers help staff the library, enabling classes to better use this vital resource.
Parents with time also raise money. Without them, many of our schools would go without arts programs, substitute teachers and, in some cases, paper.
Being part of your child's school is rewarding. I still get hugs from my son's former kindergarten classmates. But only a minority of schools have children whose parents are fortunate enough to have this kind of time. Most people work too much or have too many family obligations beyond school. Time is -- not always, but mostly -- a resource associated with economic privilege.
This means that the kids who most need museum trips and more adult attention in the classroom and extra money for their schools -- the children from lower-income families -- are the least likely to get those things.
In addition to its class inequity, the volunteer-driven model of public education seems to be based on the outdated assumption that mothers, in particular, have no lives beyond their children.
Our schools should be able to function smoothly on the (hello, 21st century!) assumption that women are busy, and on the economically realistic assumption that parents must work.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.